Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I spent much of the day reflecting on how I came to be the mother that I am. As a mom of three sons, I frequently make some huge parenting mistakes, but I know I also get it right alot of the time, too. While I take full responsibility for my shortcomings, occasional bad moods, and infrequent but insane tirades of “What the hell are you boys doing?!”, I know that so much of the good parenting that comes out of me comes from the mentoring, examples, and encouragement I’ve received from other mothers.
Looking back, my own biological mother was kind of a Wonder Woman. It took me until years into my own mothering that I actually realized this. She was a college physics professor, a profession she was absolutely called to and which she loved. We lived an hour away from town, so every morning she would diligently get up at 5 in the morning, get my brother and me ready for school, haul us to our school in the neighboring town from which she taught, go teach classes all day, grab us from school, run errands, take the long drive home to cook dinner and clean up the house, just to go to bed and do it all again the next day. Every few months she would toss in some cross-country jaunt to a physics meeting somewhere that she would be actively involved in.
When I was young, I didn’t appreciate her as much, or her hard work, and could only see her faults. But now, after I’ve adulted for a while, I can see how very hard she worked and how much she sacrificed for my family and her students. She taught me about having a good work ethic, about being a perpetual learner, about not being afraid of science and mathematics, about working hard until the task is done. And, she did so much of all of this while struggling with cancer for the last ten years of her life. She was quite the example of fortitude, and I hope I can instill this same quality in my own boys.
My biological mother hasn’t been my only mother, though. I’m a firm believer that we can find family outside of our relatives and kin, and we’re missing out if we don’t search for those people. Or, in some cases, I firmly believe that God brings them directly to us when we need them. I’ve had women who were mothers to me for short periods of time, just for a season here and there. I’ve also had mothers who have stayed with me for the long haul, who have seen me through thick and through thin.
Some of the best mothers I’ve had were ones who didn’t know they were really mothering me. I’ve done my own share of mother stalking…you know, where you find a person that resonates with you and you watch their every move, cling to every word they speak, because you know there’s wisdom coming at you from them. I’ve watched women as they interact with their children, and learned so much from them, even if I have never once spoken to them. I’ve learned from women who had completely different parenting philosophies from me, and from those who I knew were kindred spirits. And even the mothers who may have really been dropping the ball or making huge life mistakes (or maybe just what the world perceives to be huge life mistakes)…they taught me – even if it was teaching me what doesn’t work as a parent.
I think I’ve read just about every parenting book out there, from various perspectives and philosophies. While they are good, they are usually only theory to a certain point, and this is where it is so helpful to be able to look to real mothers for help. Some of my best parenting advice has come from what I once thought would be the least likely sources. I keep pestering a friend of mine that she needs to write a book called The Alcoholic’s Guide to Parenting with some quippy subtitle along the lines of using AA’s 12 steps to joyfully and calmly raise children. My friend, who is a longtime sober alcoholic, says brilliant things about being a mom on a regular basis. I’m amazed watching her that someone can face some of the crazy stuff she does without completely freaking out or resorting to grasping her kids with a steel grip. She freely admits she doesn’t have her life together, but the funny thing is, I trust her advice more than that of alot of people who do “have their lives together.”
Strangely enough, I’ve also been mothered by women younger than me, who have little ones. I see how courageously they guide their toddlers and preschoolers into the currents of a fast-changing world and I’m like, “Damn, why couldn’t I have been that cool and collected when my kids were that little?” But they inspire me to calm my own self, to remember to enjoy my boys because they won’t stay young long. When my boys are grown and think back to the days that I was chill, they have these mothers to thank.
And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how I’ve been mothered by those who weren’t ever biological mothers. Sometimes these are actually the best mothers because they have some objectivity,; they don’t miss the forest for the trees because they have a step back out of the messiness, and food splatters, and dirty diapers, and smart-ass backtalk that gets all of us moms riled up from time to time. Sometimes these mothers can see the big picture when we can’t and they help to show us the path forward.
So on Mother’s Day, I was grateful for the memories of a biological mother who brought me safely to adulthood and gave me so many good gifts. She has passed now and I no longer have her. But I am so very aware that I have not been left motherless; I have many mothers and am thankful for this village that has grown and is continuing to grow me into a better mother for my own children.